Current and former American diplomats are expressing disgust and horror over the White House’s willingness to entertain permitting Russian officials to question a prominent former U.S. ambassador.
.. “It’s beyond disgraceful. It’s fundamentally ignorant with regard to how we conduct diplomacy or what that means. It really puts in jeopardy the professional independence of diplomats anywhere in the world, if the consequence of their actions is going to be potentially being turned over to a foreign government,”
.. During President Trump’s press conference with Vladimir Putin in Helsinki, Putin pivoted a question about extraditing the 12 Russian intelligence officers whom Robert Mueller has indicted into a quid pro quo for going after longtime betes noire currently beyond his reach.
.. Putin singled out Bill Browder, whose exposure of widespread Russian tax fraud led to the passage of a U.S. human rights sanctions law Putin hates. Standing next to Trump, the Russian president accused Browder of masterminding an illegal campaign contribution to Hillary Clinton and alleging vaguely that he had “solid reason to believe that some intelligence officers guided these transactions.” Should Trump permit the Russians to question people around Browder, Putin hinted, he will let Mueller’s people be “present at questioning” of the intelligence officers... On Wednesday, Russian prosecutors escalated the stakes. The prosecutor-general’s office said it wanted to interview Michael McFaul, the former U.S. ambassador to Russia, another Putin bete noire. McFaul—the Obama-era ambassador to Moscow—replied on Twitter that the Russians know well that he wasn’t even in Russia during the relevant time frame for any case against Browder... Sarah Huckabee Sanders declined to rule out permitting the Russians to question McFaul. Sanders said that there had been “some conversation” in Helsinki about the issue, though Trump made no “commitment.”.. Heather Nauert called the Russian request for McFaul “absolutely absurd”—which was closer in line with how former U.S. diplomats viewed Putin’s gambit.“If the U.S. would make a former diplomat avail for questioning by a foreign government without evidence of wrongdoing, then that would be quite horrifying,” said Ron Neumann,.. Susan Rice, the former U.S. ambassador to the United Nations and Barack Obama’s national security adviser, tweeted that the lack of commitment to protecting McFaul was “beyond outrageous... If the White House cannot defend and protect our diplomats, like our service members, they are serving a hostile foreign power not the American people.”.. “To even hint that there’s some element of credibility to Russian disruptions and distractions puts a bullseye on the back of any diplomat and invites authoritarian regimes to bully and threaten American public servants for the crime of doing their job.. Ned Price, a former CIA analyst and spokesman for the Obama National Security Council, said Sanders’ comments made Trump look “even weaker” than during Trump’s Monday press conference with Putin. “Trump has always been all too eager to cave to Putin, but, as far as we know, it’d been largely in the abstract. He sells out our intelligence community, attacks NATO, shelves our commitment to human rights. But Putin now has specific demands in the form of human beings—one of them formerly our designated representative to Russia,” Price said... “By failing to reject the idea out of hand – immediately and forcefully – Trump signaled that absolutely nothing is off limits when it comes to Putin. And just as shocking, he’s willing to play Putin’s brand of ball, in which the world is purely transactional and lives are expendable.”.. The current U.S. diplomat said the openness to turning over McFaul capped off a shocking week for U.S. geopolitics... “The president has first and foremost his interests at the top of his mind, as opposed to the government’s. That’s very clear over the past week and a half, between shitting on our NATO allies and kissing Putin’s ass,” the diplomat said. “He cares more about himself than the nation and any of us who serve it.”The diplomat continued: “Either he’s compromised by Putin or he’s a pussy, in which case he should grab himself.”
“A big element of his communication style is storytelling. Americans that listen to the president aren’t looking for precision on the facts. They’re looking for the macro wave of the story,” said Scaramucci, who has kept in touch with Trump since being fired from his White House job last July.
“He’s going to get some things wrong about the facts of the situation, but his gut instinct is right. That’s why he speaks in those broad overtones,” Scaramucci said.
Historians and veterans of past administrations acknowledged the strategy is effective, even as they lamented how it was reshaping the presidency.
In the past, “being caught in a lie, or caught in a serious misstatement that was not checked in any way, was very, very politically dangerous for a president,” said Philip Heymann, a former senior official in the Justice Department under Presidents Jimmy Carter and Bill Clinton.
“Trump has a base that isn’t much affected by whether he lies,” said Heymann, who served on the Watergate prosecution team. “He can say things that are false if they represent views that his base wants to see espoused. It’s a totally different game.”
As he prepares for possible talks with the North Korean leader Kim Jong-un about controlling the North’s nuclear weapons program, President Trump is facing his most complicated national security challenge so far. He has made the task far harder by threatening to blow up the only other recent deal to control a nuclear program, with Iran.
.. Now consider North Korea, with 20 to 60 nuclear weapons, and facilities for producing plutonium and enriching uranium, many of which are hidden.
Mr. Trump has insisted on the North’s complete and verifiable denuclearization. And, by all indications, he wants it done immediately. Yet by threatening to abrogate the Iran deal and reimpose sanctions Mr. Trump has added to the challenge of making that happen.
.. He has claimed, without a shred of evidence, that Iran is out of compliance
.. and has complained that Iran is still building ballistic missiles, arming Hezbollah and supporting President Bashar al-Assad of Syria. None of these concerns were supposed to be prevented by the deal.
.. He has demanded that Britain, France and Germany fix what he calls “flaws” in the pact by May 12, presumably so he will have someone else to blame when it falls apart.
.. The president, and his new hard-line team of national security advisers, may think that walking away from the Iran deal will persuade Mr. Kim of his toughness and his determination to secure terms that go far beyond those reached with Iran. More likely, Mr. Kim will see it as proof that the United States cannot be trusted to stick to its commitments and will be reluctant to reach any agreement.
.. A serious negotiation with North Korea would include Mr. Trump pressing Mr. Kim to freeze nuclear and missile testing, halt the production of nuclear weapons fuel and the deployment of nuclear weapons and put an Iran-like verification system in place.
.. But why would Mr. Kim agree to any of that if the Americans walk away from the Iran deal? Why would Mr. Kim, or any future adversary for that matter, assume Mr. Trump is negotiating in good faith?
.. Mr. Trump could contribute in an unprecedented way to international peace and security by engaging with Mr. Kim. That possibility will be squandered, though, if the American president escalates a manufactured nuclear crisis with Iran at the very time he is trying to defuse one with North Korea.
The truth requires greater transparency
.. That experience teaches me that the memo simply doesn’t make its case. Indeed, it gets less persuasive — and the material omissions more glaring — with each successive read. It might disclose the existence of troubling FBI misconduct, but the fair-minded reader has no way of knowing whether it does.
.. A good summary always supports assertions with evidence. A good summary provides context. A good summary even includes relevant information that contradicts its thesis so that the reader can evaluate the best counter-arguments.
.. legal arguments typically depend on lawyers taking thousands (sometimes tens of thousands) of pages of depositions and documents, crafting a concise narrative, and communicating that narrative to a judge — with citations referring to the relevant evidence and quotations of it as well.
.. If there is no citation or quotation, a judge will typically ask the lawyer, “Counselor, what record evidence supports that assertion?”
.. One of the first and most vital assertions in the entire memo is the claim that “the ‘dossier’ compiled by Christopher Steele (Steele dossier) on behalf of the Democratic National Committee (DNC) and the Hillary Clinton campaign formed an essential part of the Carter Page FISA application.” This statement is initially offered without proof. One has to read down to the next page to see any reference to evidence:
Furthermore, Deputy Director [Andrew] McCabe testified before the Committee in December 2017 that no surveillance warrant would have been sought from the FISC without the Steele dossier information.
.. When I read this, I had two immediate thoughts. First, what did he actually say? And second, why the subtle change in language from the argument that the “dossier” was an “essential part” of the FISA application to the statement that the warrant wouldn’t have been sought without the dossier “information”? The “dossier” and the “information” are not the same thing.
.. An effective memo would do more to end the debate. How? By quoting the relevant portions of McCabe’s testimony.
Better yet, it could quote the testimony and attach an appropriately redacted copy of the testimony as an appendix.
.. Even the characterization that the dossier was “essential” is a judgment call based on evidence unavailable to the public. Even worse, it was a judgment call based in part on evidence unavailable even to the rest of the committee.
.. memo should have plainly stated the agreement between the DOJ and the committee, along with the reasons for this agreement.
.. good summaries don’t just support conclusions with evidence, they provide vital and necessary context. On this point, the memo fails utterly.
.. it fails to answer the following questions:
- How did the FISA application actually describe Steele?
.. Democrats are arguing that the political nature of his work was appropriately disclosed. Don’t we need the actual words used to properly evaluate whether the FBI materially misled the court?
- In addition to the information from the Steele dossier, what other information did the FISA application include?
- To what extent did the multiple renewal applications depend on the information in the dossier? The memo notes that a FISA order must be renewed every 90 days, and each renewal must be supported by an “independent” probable-cause finding. A Trump appointee, Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein, signed at least one of these FISA applications. He apparently believed that the request was supported by probable cause. Why?
- What is the “information” regarding Papadopoulos that triggered the opening of the investigation in July 2016 — a full three months before the Page FISA application? The memo provides information obviously designed to impair the credibility of that investigation — by referring to FBI agent Peter Strzok’s well-known political leanings — but it provides no information about any facts supporting the opening of the probe, leaving the reader with the impression that it was opened solely because Strzok dislikes Trump.
I also wrote above that a good summary “even includes relevant information that contradicts its thesis.” The memo omits any such information, but a Democratic rebuttal exists.
.. But even if the public reviews the Democratic rebuttal, the process is still flawed. The proper way to resolve explosive claims of political bias at the highest levels of government isn’t by dribbling out short memoranda but by issuing comprehensively researched and comprehensively supported majority and minority committee reports.
..it’s not by itself scandalous to review political opposition research — a politically motivated person is no more suspect than the terrorists and criminals who routinely provide information used to support even the most intrusive warrants.
.. When I was in Iraq, we were constantly aware that our sources had their own axes to grind. They didn’t want to defeat their opponents in an election. They wanted them to die in a hail of gunfire.
.. Biased sources are an inherent part of intelligence-gathering.